Bubba’s floating on air at The Open

Wow, I thought I has seen all the main innovation in golf equipment but I’m looking forward to watching the R&A’s reaction today when Bubba drives this down the 1st fairway at Muirfield on Thursday.

Bubba's hovercraft

 

Women certainly not allowed at Muirfield but hovercrafts surely.

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E.ON – the wrong time to stop innovating!

I don’t think there is ever a good time to stop innovating – in fact I believe it is a core value to drive innovation on a daily basis for all successful businesses.

So I was amazed to see that E.ON – one of the UK’s leading energy suppliers – is to close its innovation arm.

Energy brands are often viewed as a commodity service and consumers are encouraged to switch suppliers based on the latest price deals – especially true when their prices are regularly increased as they are at the moment.

This is exactly when innovation needs to play it’s part by adding new value to customers.

Surely there are lots of opportunities for E.ON to help us change our consumer behaviour and usage of energy. Not just in providing innovations such as renewable energies and services that make our energy usage more efficient but also in amazing general customer service and marketing initiatives that create more valued & loyal customer relationships.

I’m sure that E.ON will say something like ‘innovation is core in our business and doesn’t need a separate business unit’ but from my experience a company as large and important as E.ON this is not enough to deliver the big changes that are possible.

At at time when there are a number of small businesses developing interesting new energy propositions such as the Nest learning thermostat in the US the big energy suppliers – like the big telcos before them – run the risk of becoming even more like a ‘price led commodity’ than ever before.

Still, all the time energy suppliers are able to set and follow their competitor prices in a ‘near-cartel’ fashion maybe they are content not to take the risk and effort to invest in innovation and simply suck-up the almost guaranteed profits that the sector provides.

I hope this is not about the lack of value of innovation to energy companies but perhaps more to do with their ability to harness and execute it properly in the business.

The power of innovation – recycling cycling

Sometimes you read something and you go ‘wow’. This week I was reading about how a designer called Izhar Gafni has designed a rather cool looking bicycle made largely from recycled cardboard and aimed to be produced for under $10!

As someone that has recently got into the cycling boom in the UK and having spent well over £1000 on a lovely carbon fibre bike I’m intrigued about the potential of a bike that weighs about the same and yet could cost much, much less.

Clearly the bike isn’t designed to win the Tour de France but it has the potential to be truly great because it addresses a number of key innovation success criteria:

  • An inspiring and exciting story that will be rapidly shared – ‘surely you can’t cycle on a cardboard bike’. Clearly both the intrigue and fantastic design create a really exciting story that has the potential to generate huge amounts of media coverage and of course offers the sort of ‘talkability’ that many brands aspire.
  • Unique position in a large growing market – I’m assuming that there are not too many folk as creative and determined enough as Izhar to have been spending the last two years in their sheds creating the perfect cardboard bicycle. I trust he has also been smart enough to protect the IP then he could enjoy a unique position in a large market for some considerable time.
  • Keeping the offer simple – Not only is the bike design beautifully simple but the idea itself especially the low-maintenance aspects of the bike are fantastically simple. It’s easy to know what this offers and of course how a sales person can sell it.
  • Opens up big new customer market opportunities – not only could this address the obviously large market potential in developed and developing markets for ‘low-cost’ bicycles but the additional angle of ‘easy maintenance’ hits another massive consumer need for convenience. Not only that but the more environmentally conscious audience opens up yet a third key customer target group.

Not only am I hugely impressed by the innovation in the product itself and the massive potential market opportunity but mainly I’m struck by the sheer focus and determination of this great innovator to prove that the impossible can be possible.

Whether this cardboard bike would really survive the often wet and pot-holed roads of the UK or even ever be produced at such aggressively low costs still remains to be seen but this is the kind of simple but challenging innovation that gets me really excited.

Good luck to them.

The winners of the 5th screen will be …..

….. probably not the advertisers as discussed on this piece on ‘5th screens’ on Fast Company. I maybe wrong or simply short-sighted but I think the commercialisation of these screens just needs to be different.

The 5th screen’s role in life is simple – to tell you something useful and in a way that is easier and more beneficial than just getting your smartphone out of your pocket. It has to be designed to be useful in even more fleeting glances than the ever increasing times we spend engrossed with our smartphones.

So the winners in the 5th screen device market will have learnt from the 3rd screen (smartphone) and 4th screen (tablet) and be those that get the user experience right so that consumers actually want to view and in this case actually wear their screen.

As someone lucky enough to have used the Sony SmartWatch for the last couple of months I can tell you how important it is to get the design and navigation right. This is pretty cool but you really don’t want to be spending time fumbling around with your watch and looking a geek. This needs both a good resolution display and of course simple software UI.

This is what I think will define the winners and the good news is that that it doesn’t have to be Apple. I say this because:

  1. The smartphone user base is now much bigger than just iPhones given the massive rise in Android
  2. Hopefully enough players have hooked onto simple & smart UI design and can develop as quickly as Apple would need to for this new type of device

As an entrepreneurial lover of technology and gadgets I think it’s great that the Allerta Pebble smartwatch has raised so much funding to hopefully secure a successful launch. It does appear to have taken further steps in the right direction but the areas that I think need to be delivered by whomever wins in this area are:

  •  provide us something compelling that will genuinely get us to value this over a normal watch – This could be as simple as easily changing/personalising the clock/calendar but obviously has scope for other applications such as messaging, location, etc.
  • simple content presentation without too much scrolling around – you really don’t want to be pressing too many buttons or dragging content around the screen otherwise you will simply get your smartphone out!
  • battery life has to be good and easily charged – I love the built-in USB charger on the Nike Sportswatch that just plugs into computer, charges and updates apps
  • do not do what is inferred by the FastCompany post and clutter my watch experience with adverts – my watch is arguably more personal than even my phone and is definitely going to be smaller so a completely new thinking of commercialisation needs to be considered.
Sure, I recognise that monetisation of the business model can happen and potentially subsidise the cost of these sexy 5th screens in the same way as my post on monetising smartphones but let’s start by creating rich services that consumers would be willing to pay for rather than simply seeing it as another screen to serve adverts.
In my opinion this should be more ‘experience value driven’ by offering things such as a golfing GPS app or running/exercise app than by seeing it as another screen to monetise with adverts. Of course there are many other great opportunities for brands to get involved and build value into the experiences like this and use this to drive their business.
But do this in the smart way of adding value to the consumer on their new 5th screen rather than trying to find the right way to shoe-horn your advert onto the screen!

The power of dreams – not quite yet

As someone who would pay good money for a better night’s sleep I was drawn to the exciting news of the new Dream:ON app that helps to influence your dreams and give you a better sleep.

I’m not sure about you but I have had many nights’ sleep ruined by my dreams being distracted by thoughts of work, things I have forgotten to do and other mundane things. I certainly know that I sleep better when the dreams are about enjoying a relaxing family holiday, shooting a 68 at Pebble Beach or of course doughnuts if you’re Homer Simpson!

What a beautiful and simple innovation – giving people better dreams and helping them improve their sleep. How much would you pay for that as a business proposition?

But can this dream become a reality? At the moment the Dream:ON service is linked to a study at the University of Hertfordshire so isn’t really a commercial venture but I tried it myself last night and here’s my thoughts:

Well initially I was struck by the simplicity and ease of use of setting up the service. I wasn’t too sure how the 2 free soundscapes would influence my dreams but I went to bed excited about the night’s sleep ahead.

Sadly, I guess you can argue that it didn’t work! I didn’t get to hear any of the soothing music and I certainly didn’t get any better dreams. In fact, I actually had a worse sleep as I was worried about my iPad laying on my bed and even had to rescue it when it fell off and smashed against the bed side table.

However, looking at it optimistically I can see that there is real potential for developing the service whereby it works better both functionally and commercially based on a few tweaks:

  • using a specialist device such as the Jawbone UP to monitor your sleep patterns rather than leaving your mobile phone or tablet laying on your bed. This should give much more accurate results and save you worrying about your phone as much. It would also allow the service to work on memory foam beds!
  • having the Dream:ON app working with wireless/bluetooth speakers so that the music can be played via your existing bedside audio system
  • a simpler business model that gives a two-week free trial to a wide range of dream soundscapes so that consumers get happy the service works for them before then charging a small monthly fee – something I would happily pay for a proven way to better dreams and sleep!
So I won’t be using Dream:ON again tonight as I try and catch up on some sleep.
However, maybe the guys at Jawbone or anyone else that has a potential interest in this exciting new proposition can dream something up so that we can all sleep a little bit more peacefully!

Tapping your customers up with NFC

As someone that likes thinking of fun ways new technology can be used to provide better customer experiences it is sometimes depressing that so much of the talk surrounding the fantastic NFC (Near Field Communication) technology that is built into my new smartphone (and will probably be in your next one too!) is based upon the notion of us using it as a mobile payment system.

I’m sure that this will definitely happen over time and will indeed offer us a simpler way for us to make many of our lower value purchases. However, given that this technology is now literally getting into many of our hands I think there is great opportunities for brands to use this to drive their own innovation and creativity with customer propositions and communication.

So it’s refreshing to see that Clinton Cards are looking to make better use of NFC to improve their customer experience and provide greater value. In doing so they will obviously help expedite use of it as convenient payment mechanism also.

My old company Sony Mobile are also looking to drive better customer experiences by providing NFC tags that allow their users to more conveniently programme their phone into customised settings – such as setting GPS, maps and voice activation simply by tapping their phone on a tag left inside the car.

So who are going to be the creative brands that really grasp this new technology and do something simple, fun and mainstream that really gets people talking about their brand in a positive way?

For instance we all know that Facebook wants to drive more ‘check-ins’ and entertainment venues/bars want to drive more customers so why doesn’t someone produce simple Facebook check-in stickers to go doors so you simply have to tap your phone as you enter to immediately activate the Facebook check-in?

We know that brands are struggling to find ways effective ways for using QR codes in advertising and other channels to drive consumer engagement. Basically QR codes are a bit ugly and it’s still not always convenient or attractive to get your phone out and take a picture of a poster. I would propose some start to shift to NFC instead which can offer a better customer experience and at least may help positioning for the brand in a better way.

Other ideas where the simple tapping of a mobile phone to a company’s marketing or actual product may make sense could include store promotions/vouchers, free content, network integration, etc.

Clearly many will want to wait for a bigger critical mass of NFC phones and others may be sceptical that this could be another passing technology that never really takes off.

But I applaud the marketer that can really show the innovation and drive to build their brand by being amongst the first to really embed NFC into their marketing and customer proposition.

At least I will have more things to tap my lovely new smartphone on! 🙂

3, 2, 1 Action!

Well, having worked in the Internet world for over 15 years I have finally managed to find the time to put down some of my own thoughts on how individuals and businesses can get the most out of the latest exciting digital technologies.

Clearly the internet has created a myriad of wonderful (and some less wonderful) new services, businesses and business models alike.

There have been real winners and losers. From those that have (or are about to become) famously successful by launching exciting businesses that provide compelling new offers to those that have struggled to find the best way to use or execute digital within their business and have subsequently lost market share or the potential to grow new business.

Of course, there are many factors that will help make company A more successful than company B but for me the keys to fortune are in having a real simplicity in what (and how) you offer your customers, coupled of course with a true sense of gratification that they experience.

I look forward to exploring this over the months ahead and sharing some thoughts & examples of what I think can be great or poor practice.